Who can complain to us?

We can look at complaints from anyone who is or was a student registered at a higher education provider, or anyone who is or was studying for one of the higher education provider’s awards, if the provider is a member of our Scheme.

The term “student” can include trainees and apprentices. It also includes those studying abroad for an award from a provider in England or Wales. 

For more information, go to our Guidance Note on the Rules.

Which providers are members of our Scheme?

Members of our Scheme include universities, further education (FE) and sixth-form colleges, alternative providers and providers of School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITTs). A higher education provider becomes a member of our Scheme automatically if it is a “qualifying institution”, as defined by the Higher Education Act 2004. More information can be found in our Scheme Rules and the accompanying Guidance Note. Our list of members includes details of the providers that are currently members of our Scheme.

A body which is not a “qualifying institution” can apply to become a member.

Does the student have to be studying on a higher education course to complain?

Students at some providers can complain no matter what course they are or were studying on. Students at other providers can only complain if they are or were on a higher education course and their complaint is about their experience on that higher education course. These providers are identified in our list of members.

The Guidance Note on our Rules includes more information on the definition of a higher education course for the purposes of our Scheme.

How does the student complain?

To make a complaint the student needs to send a Complaint Form to us. We must receive it within 12 months of the date of the provider’s final decision. The 12-month period will normally run from the date of the Completion of Procedures Letter.

We will normally expect students to follow the provider’s internal procedures to their conclusion before complaining to us. This gives the provider the opportunity to investigate and, where appropriate, put things right. The provider should issue a Completion of Procedures Letter at any point where there are no further steps the student can take within the provider. The student should send us a copy of the Completion of Procedures Letter with their Complaint Form if they have one.

It is helpful to encourage the student to bring their complaint to us as soon as they can, without waiting until the deadline. This is because the remedies we can recommend may be limited if they wait a year to complaint.

We can accept a complaint in exceptional circumstances even though the student has not completed the provider’s internal processes. We might do this if the provider has unduly delayed in progressing the complaint or in issuing a Completion of Procedures Letter, or if there is evidence that the provider might be obstructing the complaint, or where there is nothing to be gained by progressing with the internal processes. In all these cases, we would expect the student to have pursued the matter first with the provider.

More information about making a complaint to us can be found on our student pages.

What can the student complain about?

Students can complain to us about anything the provider has done or failed to do. There are some exceptions, and our Rules and Guidance Note include more information about what we can and can't look at. Further information is also available on our student pages.

What if the events happened before the provider became a member?

We won't consider complaints about events that happened before the provider became a member of our Scheme. But, a complaint may relate to events that occurred before and continued after the provider became a member and in that case we might look at what happened before the provider became a member as relevant background to the complaint.

What if the provider is a "transitional institution"?

A provider that stops being a “qualifying institution”, for example because it stops running higher education courses, will carry on being a member of the Scheme for a period of 12 months. During this “transitional period”, the higher education provider is known as a “transitional institution”. If the provider is in this position, it should continue to issue Completion of Procedures Letters and use the last date of its membership as the deadline for the student to bring their complaint to us. The student should be told the deadline and encouraged to bring their complaint to us as soon as possible.

We can't look at a complaint about a transitional institution unless the complaint relates to things that happened before the institution became a transitional institution. These providers are identified on our list of members.

related pages

Our Rules

Our Rules set out how our Scheme works, who can complain, what we can and can’t look at, how we review complaints, and what higher education providers should do.

What is a Point of Contact and what do they do?

Find out more about what an OIA Point of Contact does and how we communicate with you.

What happens when a student complains to us?

Learn more about how we deal with complaints, and what happens once a complaint is made.